Life lessons from a Monopoly blitzkrieg
But they brought home the Monopoly set. It was a classic—we’re talking wooden houses here. And the set was mint; nothing showed signs of wear.
That was about to change.
My pal Charlie already had a set, and with our friend Gary we’d developed our own aggressive style of play, which we called “blitz.” We liked each other immensely, but Monopolied with a vengeance.The game overtook us. It possessed our minds and restructured our souls, transforming three reasonably civilized 12-year-olds into maniacal, raving cutthroats. No mercy. Take no prisoners. Game-influenced, we committed acts of aggression, treachery and subterfuge otherwise unthinkable in our white-bread, middle-class families. And these things we did in such a frenzy of movement and laughter that visitors to our homes surely thought we’d just escaped from a locked ward.
Yet it was in that opium den of Parker Brothers board play that I learned about life. Not how to harm or deceive, but important things. Things I would use.
No risk, no reward. In Monopoly the only way to win was to own, so we bought everything we landed on, even if that meant hocking all we’d accumulated so far. Much of the game was luck anyway, so we simply figured on having some. But if one of us bellied up early from overextension, he did so with the sincere admiration of his buddies for flaming out in proper style.
Make rules that work. We decided if one of us got broke enough, he could hock his token for five bucks and keep his place with a finger. We also agreed that all taxes and fines would be paid to the pot, which was collected by landing on Free Parking. And many were the times that sudden infusion of capital turned the game on its head for one of us, leaving smudgy fingerprints around the board.
Stay alert. For collecting rent, the window of opportunity slammed shut as soon as the dice hit the table again. And we had the board so well memorized that, without counting, we knew Ventnor and eight meant Short Line. If that eight was thrown in two fours and Short Line had an owner, the roller tried to snatch up the dice and throw again before anyone could call him on it. Eventually, all doubles—and in some games, all rolls—brought a knee-jerk chorus of “I own it!” just to stop the play.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. One-dollar bills cluttered up the game, so we rounded everything to the nearest five. The only pesky item was Mediterranean’s (unimproved) $2 rent. So we simply paid five on the second hit. And, trust me, it always got collected. We kept up with play like Reno crapmasters.
Join up. We three boys could have taught a course in limited partnership long before we knew there was a name for it. For example, if between us, Gary and I held all of the red group, we would amalgamate ourselves and launch an aggressive construction project. That sidestepped the dreaded Monopoly stalemate and kept the game moving. Then when one of us hit hard times, the other would start buying him out. It was like partnering to own.
You reap what you sow. Even in a blitz game, there had to be some civility. We learned that as soon as you squeezed your buddy to hock property when he was $10 short, you’d come begging on the next roll. Besides, it made better business sense to trust him around the board and collect an extra five.
Rub it in, then laugh it off. One time Charlie was flush, but Gary had hotels on the orange group. Charlie rolled doubles to land on the first one (St. James), which took most of his cash. Then he rolled “snake eyes” to land on Tennessee, tossing most of his property into hock. His next roll was a four—a three and a one—which took him around the corner to Chance. The top card said “GO BACK THREE SPACES” (to New York). After several minutes of carpet-pounding, appendix-busting laughter, we started over and finished another game before supper.
And even today, we three boys have been known to bend gray-haired and bifocalled over semi-paunchy bellies to roll the dice and do our best to beat the dog breath out of each other, all the while keeping the rest of the house awake with our cackles, splattering and irrepressible.
But my Monopoly set—the classic—is long gone. Like a good son, I had launched myself from home with an armload of parental instructions for “do” and “don’t.” I simply failed to leave behind any instructions of my own. And during an extended absence, my mother threw the game away.
Threw it away!
“Well, nobody had played with it in years,” my mother argued, admiring her clean closet.
But even from the landfill, Monopoly taught me well: Never assume that anyone—even your mother—knows what you treasure.
– Lew Garnett